Sunday, March 13, 2016

Transforming education with Erin Jones

One month ago, I attended a diversity and equity session at the University where I work. I heard Erin Jones speak to two different groups, and I spoke briefly with her one-on-one between sessions. Throughout the entire day, I was not only impressed by her realistic awareness of today's education system, but I was also increasingly inspired by her willingness to confront difficult issues that I am also passionate about. 

Two of her statements resonated the most with me that day. Once, in response to the legislative and systemic challenges facing today's teachers, Erin exclaimed, "I think there's going to be a revolution in education someday soon, and I can't wait to be a part of it!" And I write the word "exclaimed" intentionally because she said this with passion and energy, and a great big, beaming smile. In the last 15 years, I've probably had hundreds of conversations with hundreds of educators from around Washington state; I've heard various people speak of potential change with a voice of hope, or determination, or even doubt and resignation. But I have never heard such enthusiasm about the idea of revolutionizing education! It was truly motivating to hear her speak as if we can can actually make a change!

Later in the day, Erin made a statement that has radically changed the way I view my own purpose and potential as a teacher.  The conversation at hand was the challenge of teaching to the curriculum and/or the test when we as teachers know something else might be truly better for our kids. Since Erin was an educator long before she became an administrator, she understood this dilemma. She described some instructional choices that she had made in her own classroom over the years and one of my colleagues asked how her administrators felt about those decisions. I was particularly anxious to hear her answer because I was about to leave for a fairly nerve wracking meeting at the high school where I also teach. For people outside the field of education, this struggle might not be well known, but it can be incredibly intimidating to stand up for what you believe is right for your students and for yourself when you feel so unsupported by the powers that be.  With that current situation heavy on my heart, I listened intently to Erin's response. Then she literally changed the way I view myself and my sense of job security: "I had to get to a place in my career where I could say, it's OK. You can fire me for something [in the curriculum] that I didn't do, but you'll have a hard time finding anyone to replace me and the things I CAN DO for my kids." That was it! My eyes welled up with tears and I suddenly felt more empowered as an educator than I ever had before because I knew that going into my meeting that afternoon, I didn't need to be afraid even if I wasn't supported by administration. As long as I do what I believe is right, and do it with the same sense of compassion and commitment that Erin had shown all day, I know that I will be OK. Even if I face opposition along the way, I'll still be able to make a difference. Maybe one day I'll even be a part of that educational revolution that she had spoken so passionately about.

Before I left, I told one of my coworkers that I was sad I had to miss the rest of the presentation but I had to leave for my high school meeting. And I jokingly said, "I wish I could hang out some more with this Erin woman. I'm pretty sure we'd be friends if she was a teacher on this side of the state."

When I got home from work that night, I told my husband that I'd had an important realization and I felt much better about the situation I was going through. My plan was to email the presenter the next day and tell her what a difference she had made for me. Before I could tell him anymore about it though, he reminded me about a rally that he had been invited to and said that we wouldn't be able to attend that night because it overlapped with another family event. I asked him what rally it was, and he told me it was for a lady named Erin Jones who was running for state superintendent. I asked to hear her name again, and then asked to see her picture on the Facebook event. Sure enough, the woman who had inspired me and challenged me all morning long was the very same woman running for superintendent of our state education system! Aside from my embarrassment at the fact that I didn't know this already, and my disappointment but I wasn't able to attend her rally, I was ecstatic!  I decided I should take some time to investigate her platform and to really think through the email I had intended to send her. So here I am, one month later, and more encouraged than ever. 

From everything I've seen, Erin Jones is the real deal. She has the mind and heart of a teacher, with the vision and resume of a state leader. She is one of the few leaders who truly understands how important it is to fully support students AND teachers at the same. And she is ready to take on that challenge! 

If you want to see for yourself, you can follow Erin Jones on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ErinJones2016/ 

Erin, I want to say THANK YOU for all you're doing to inspire change--In me personally, and in the system. And I hope you don't mind that I wrote a full blown post instead of a private email. This movement is just too good to keep to myself! 

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